From Luke's Inbox: What's the Big Picture in Grading?

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I am a computer technology teacher and want my students to learn movie/film making. I love your free film school because you make it sound fun which is a contrast to my serious approach. But I've never graded students on film making. I've come up with a rubric that focuses on individual behavior and participation in a group, the student's depth of creativity and use of technical skills. Am I not seeing the big picture? Should I add anything else to my appraisal process?

I've never graded students on filmmaking before either. And there's a huge reason why: I don't believe grades help students!

A bit of background: I was homeschooled until high school. As a homeschooler, I did my work until I got it right--what edu-theorists call the "mastery" approach to learning. When I got to high school, I learned how to play the grade game, but that's all it was. I "won" by graduating Valedictorian, but the mad pursuit of grades did nothing to enhance my educational experience. Grades added needless stress and incorrect objectives to my learning. Thankfully, when I got to college, I was able to mostly push aside the meaningless pursuit of grades and focus, instead, on my education. From my experience, grades are absolutely the wrong way to go about motivating and monitoring students.

With my online free film school, I am careful to point out the following:

You won't be graded on how well your projects turn out. Instead, this free film school focuses on helping you practice. I believe that you will naturally improve as you produce more content. Too often we, as creative types, get bogged down because our skill does not match our vision. These short projects are designed to help you get over that and keep moving forward.

I want to inspire kids to produce a bunch of content, not get mired in trying to make something "perfect" to get an A. Practice and get better. That's what I want you to do.

So, I recommend a Pass/Fail approach to assignments, especially film. The "rubric" consists of the following question: Did you produce something that in some way fits the instructions? Yes? Pass. No? Fail... and do it again so you can pass.

But this is also why I require every single person to produce their own thing! You can't get a "free ride" on the work of others. I absolutely encourage students to work together in groups on their various projects--because the more you do, the better you get--but I don't force group films. In my experience, that always leads to a few people doing all the work and some student, somewhere, gets the short end of the proverbial stick.

One benefit I realize I have in offering a free film school online is that I don't need kids to create stuff on a particular timetable. They take as long as they need to make something, and they only "fail" if they "drop" the course--at which point, failure doesn't matter. I'm not sure the best way to translate this to the classroom setting. I would do my best to give clear due dates and work with students who are unable to complete an assignment on time. I'd much rather a kid make a movie a month late than miss out on the opportunity. But if they simply refuse to work, they choose to fail.

If the student does not produce a video in line with the assignment, I handle that in one of two ways: 1. I explain what I was looking for and request they try again, or 2. I accept it as is because they clearly got some benefit from their practice and it is "close enough" to the objective.

That's the "big picture" as I see it. There's a lot more behind my philosophy and approach to learning, and there are unique challenges that you face as a classroom teacher. If you have other questions about how I'd address a particular issue, I'm happy to give my two cents. But I think many of these problems can be solved by focusing on the objective: Encourage kids to discover the wonder and joy of learning and putting their knowledge and skills toward creative or meaningful pursuits.

Hope that helps!


Why did I share this email that's largely about non-Sonlight stuff? Because it was in my inbox and, more importantly, I think a proper focus on learning is one of the huge benefits homeschooling offers students. May you continue to allow your kids to develop a life-long love of learning as they practice and master the skills they need for whatever God has called them to do!

How do you handle grading in your household? If you're looking for some practical tips on grading--especially for high school--check out Judy's blog post on grading and transcripts.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

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